Reader Advisory: This series is an experiment. The takes within are not anything that I’m willing to stand behind as enhancing or detracting from the “draft value” of the players I am profiling here. I developed this series to illustrate the subjectivity of a player interview. There will be plenty of armchair psychology and body language analysis interlaced with opinions based on my experiences as a manager, a journalist, and a student of football.
I have always thought Jon Gruden was sneaky-good at interviewing NFL prospects. The former coach is intelligent, he’s well-prepared, and he understands how to frame conversations that elicit information without attacking the player–even when delivering criticism. There’s a playfulness on the surface that belies the seriousness of Gruden’s points.
I repeat, this is an experiment and a series I’m writing because I’m curious what I’d see if I studied an interview as if I studied a game. There’s no weight I’m placing on this analysis. The intent is to show the variety of ways different observers can interpret the same interview.
I don’t agree with all the takes I’m positing. I will say that after studying three of these QB Camp shows, there are potential observations that are similar to observations I’ve seen others believe were valid points during job or field interviews as a writer.
Some of these insights may hit the mark–maybe even touch upon something deeper into the player’s personality. However, these takeaways may also be a reflection of a player’s nerves and insecurity about appearing on national television on the eve of the most important job selection process of his life to date.
I know that I’d be nervous about having my game dissected by a top expert in the field on national television. There are extraordinarily few people who wouldn’t feel this pressure and react with a measure of insecurity on some level.
I’m not telling you which of these takes I believe have actual merit. These interviews are first impressions of a player’s personality away from the field. If I was a manager for a team’s front office, I’d want our organization to spend more time with the player to determine if a variety of co-workers had similar impressions.
For the last time, these are hypothetical takes of one interview and these observations have no factor in my evaluation of the player as found in the RSP. As with every interview I’m studying in this series I watched it at least twice–often 3-4 times–to gather quotes and study the interaction between Gruden and his interview subject.
Gruden and Boyd: The Intro-Setting the Tone
“I”m definitely a top-three quarterback,” says Tajh Boyd in this opening segment talking to the camera
If you believe this statement then you’ll agree with him. However, most evaluators and scouts don’t share this opinion.
Take the statement for its surface value and Boyd is projecting confidence in his craft. Remember, Boyd isn’t talking to anyone on camera here so his response could be to a question posed by the production crew: “Where do you see yourself in this class of quarterbacks?”
Whether its true or not, what do you expect Boyd to say other than, “I’m definitely a top-three quarterback.”
If no one asked Boyd about where he fits in this class and the actual question was more open-ended question, then there’s some room for debate about Boyd’s answer. Some coaches might have preferred to see Boyd not make the statement about his spot in this class.
Instead, they might have preferred Boyd lead off with specific positive traits of his game (which he did after this initial proclamation that he was top-three). There are two potential reasons:
- An observer might perceive Boyd’s statement as lacking self-awareness of his talents and shortcomings. No team wants to draft a player who overestimates his abilities to the extent that he doesn’t understand how to prioritize or address his shortcomings.
- A straight shooter evaluating Boyd may feel the statement is the result of Boyd taking an agent’s advice and behaving too “coached up” for the interview, which can turn off some. Remember, these players and coaches have to work together every day–coaches want to have a sense of the personality they are working with and not be told what the player thinks the coach wants to hear.
Gruden’s initial assessment of Boyd before the two engage in conversation is a statement focused on Boyd’s personality. The coach spends no time in this intro listing any positives about Boyd’s hard skills (technique or understanding of the game or position). Gruden ends the intro by saying, “[Boyd] has a lot to have his eyes opened to.”
One might believe Gruden is saying that Boyd is inexperienced with the finer details of quarterbacking. Based on what I’ve seen on tape and what other analysts have said about Boyd’s on-field performances, there’s a good argument to be made that this is what Gruden meant.
It could also mean that Boyd is naive when it comes to assessing his own abilities. Clemson is a big-time college football program, but even the best college programs are “small ponds” relative to the NFL. A lot of the big fish in those small ponds are deluded into thinking they are a more prepared than they are. An experienced coach like Jon Gruden has seen this before.
The Opening Segment
The coach sets up the interview praising Boyd’s production. He shares that Boyd broke one of Philip Rivers’ records in college.
When Gruden asks Boyd why the quarterback returned to Clemson in 2013, Boyd’s response is thorough–arguably too thorough:
“When you leave you want to make sure you don’t have any questions about your career. About anything. I told myself that I wanted to be the best quarterback in this class. And ultimately I feel like I am most definitely. Does it appear that way to some others? Probably not. But it doesn’t really matter what they think at the end of the day. So for me I felt like I got everything I wanted out of this year. I feel like I matured. I feel like I’m ready to make the leap to this next level. Not only on the field, but off the field. If you can’t handle what happens off the field then you can’t handle what’s on the field. I feel like there’s a maturation process and I feel like I’m well prepared for it.”
Some might listen to this statement and note that Boyd not only brought up that idea about being the best quarterback in this class, but he also anticipated a question (underlined and bold above) that was not even asked: “How do you feel about the fact that most people don’t have you in the top-three of this quarterback class?”
This tactic in Boyd’s answer could indicate that the quarterback feels insecure about his standing in the class. Observers who believe this is the case will say this statement not only detracts from the preceding one saying, “I am most definitively [the best of the group],” but it severely undermines it.
Those who study Boyd’s body language might also see some defensiveness in his statement. After Boyd explains that others may not think he’s the best quarterback in this class and says, “But it doesn’t really matter what they think at the end of the day,” Boyd steeples his fingers towards Gruden.
When an interview subject steeples his fingers and the fingers are pointed upward, it’s a sign of thoughtfulness behind the words being spoken. When the fingers are pointed towards the speaker–which Boyd does towards Gruden–it can be a sign of the speaker creating a barrier of distance from the listener –a defensive position.
The body language and words could reinforce to an observer that Boyd feels defensive and insecure about the way he’s perceived as a prospect. Considering that we’ve heard Boyd say twice in the opening five minutes of the show that he believes he’s one of the top three quarterbacks in this class– it may seem to some that Boyd is trying to sell himself rather than prove himself.
If you buy into Boyd’s body language as a tell, this insecurity and desire to sell his take is further reinforced when the QB places his hand on his chin with his elbow on the table while finishing his final statement, “and I feel like I’m well prepared for it [the maturation process of becoming an NFL quarterback].”
This body language is said to be an indication that the subject is “evaluating” the reaction of the listener. In this case, Boyd’s body langauge could be a non-verbal question: “Is Gruden buying what I’m selling here?”
One could argue that this behavior is natural for a person who’s being interviewed. He’s there to make a good impression. However, some might say Boyd is too eager to make a good impression and he’s not giving enough substantive answers to do it–relying more on projecting confidence than illustrating competency.
The body language analysis continues to point towards insecurity. Gruden tells Boyd that it’s a credit to the quarterback that he finished. The coach then says that he likes people who finish and not enough people do it.
Boyd responds by crossing his arms and holding his biceps in his hands. When a person hugs themselves, it’s considered a non-verbal effort of self-reassurance in a situation where the subject doesn’t feel safe.
To add context to the non-verbal reaction, Gruden told Boyd at the beginning of the segment–before this first question–that he’s praising the QB so it will be a little easier to “come after him.” Boyd has been anticipating this pending criticism and the non-verbal tell could be an indication that Boyd is trying to generate emotional reassurance with the praise he’s been given before the expected criticism.
Gruden continues praising Boyd for the quarterback’s arm strength, signs of accuracy and anticipation, and a quick release. Boyd continues to hug himself.
Then Gruden pulls out the hammer. He asks Boyd about working with his own private quarterback coach. Gruden mentions that some of the work is focused on throwing from different platforms. Gruden finishes by asking, “What are we fixing?”
“I don’t know…that’s the thing,” says Boyd, covering his mouth. A non-verbal indication of surprise and shock. It can also be a physical manifestation of a person trying to suppress what he’s really thinking, but not saying. “Sometimes you try to fix what you hear and I don’t say I don’t have…I have all the confidence in the world in my arm. I feel like I have the best ball in college football, but you hearing this and that…”
As Boyd is talking, the monitor displays the Clemson quarterback completing a pass in a tight window up the sideline. Without finishing his last sentence, Boyd changes the subject while still covering his mouth with his hand.
“Droppin’ dimes on them coach, look at this,” says Boyd.
The response and the body language could indicate that Boyd is so uncomfortable with that question that he avoids giving specifics and at the first opportunity he changes the subject in a desperate attempt not to address his flaws. Some may believe that Boyd is displaying a consistent pattern of insecurity when it comes to facing his flaws.
There is evidence that he’s being vague, changing the subject, and anticipating or avoiding criticism to the detriment of his responses. The body language underscores this behavior as well.
A more confident interview subject would address specific flaws when asked a direct question about it. Instead, Boyd’s answer indicates either he doesn’t want to tell the audience his flaws or he truly doesn’t know why he he’s paying a quarterback coach a whole hell of a lot of money. Intentionally or otherwise, an observer might see Boyd as resistant to instruction–despite Gruden saying at the end of the episode that he believes Boyd is a player that the coach is confident will take to coaching.
Another perspective on this response could fall into the category of being “coached up” by an agent. Perhaps Boyd took the “project confidence” lessons to the extreme and became afraid of addressing his flaws. Or, perhaps the interview coaching wasn’t thorough and Boyd didn’t have a clear understanding of how to apply the advice.
Again, this appearance on ESPN may be a great opportunity, but it’s also a tough situation. If you’re invited to participate you do it, or else declining it will look bad.
Gruden’s Patience to Make His Point
Later on, Gruden asks Boyd to explain why the QB throws an interception inside the five in this year’s bowl game against Ohio State. Boyd is more relaxed with his body language–his arms are in a non-defensive position, he is leaning back in his chair, and he goes through the details of the play. He didn’t throw the quick pass and tried to wait for Sammy Watkins to come open in the corner, admitting an error.
It was a genuine, open, and honest response. The body language and specific detail was opposite of the quality of explanation that Boyd gave about having a QB coach.
The fact that Boyd didn’t want to discuss the quarterback coaching but was open about his mistake in judgment on this red zone play could have multiple meanings. One person might say Boyd got more comfortable during the interview and loosened up. Another might say that Boyd is afraid to reveal the details of the coaching because he’s afraid of how the NFL might react and this was a simple decision-making flaw that Boyd knows happens to most quarterbacks from time to time.
After this explanation, Gruden tells Boyd that the QB has to keep growing mentally. Boyd continues to listen while covering his hand over his mouth. Gruden praises Boyd for his potential and then goes into great depth on Boyd’s ball handling as a positive with even greater potential if the quarterback works at the skill.
Gruden then circles back to a point about details. He criticizes Boyd’s poor ball security in a game one week after injuring his hand. It’s a point one begins to see that Gruden hopes to hammer home throughout this interview.
The coach began the show saying he hoped to open Boyd’s eyes. One could argue that Gruden’s question about the quarterback coach that went unanswered was something that the coach expected to happen.
There’s potential credence to his theory as the show progresses–especially when we see the coach stress details with greater emphasis.
The answer-dodging that Gruden gets from Boyd might also be an indicator that the quarterback has not bought into (consciously or otherwise) what he must do to improve his game. Gruden has seen this kind of thing before as a coach.
It is common for a young athlete who has had a lot of success not to realize how much work he truly has to do to get better. Remember, the fine details are the small things that spell a huge gap between college and pro talent. Without a clear perspective of self, it might be difficult to see one’s flaws accurately.
One of Gruden’s talents is setting up his guests. He’s not trying to make these guys look bad, but he continues to press if they dodge him. He’s firm about it, but he still gives a positive note of encouragement so he’s not actively trying to demoralize the guest. It’s important that the audience perceives Gruden as only “wearing” the bad guy hat and can remove it from one segment to the next.
Otherwise, there would be a lot more criticism leveled at Gruden. Imagine if agents didn’t think the coach handled this well? The show might not have made it into its fifth year.
Gruden makes a huge impression on Boyd about details in the next segment. It comes with Boyd’s handling of the Bison 2-Roll blitz.
It’s a play where the safety and outside linebacker blitz off one side while the corner and safety roll to accommodate the blitz side. The defense plays Cover 2 to help support the blitz while rolling over its coverage responsibilities.
Gruden illustrates to Boyd and the audience that the QB has not mastered details important to NFL QB play.
The first Bison 2-Roll Blitz that Gruden shows is a Lamarcus Joyner strip-sack that FSU returns for a touchdown in the first quarter. Boyd fails to recognize the blitz pre-snap.
Gruden gives the old, “fool me once/fool me twice,” quote to set up a clip of the Clemson coach on the sideline whispering to Boyd after the play. Gruden speculates that the coach is telling Boyd, “watch out for the Bison they’re going to come back to it.”
Boyd’s response is what could be described as nervous laughter and it’s accompanied by the phrase “Oh my God.” One could make the next assumption that Boyd is thinking I’‘m about to get reamed on national TV for missing this twice in a game.
What Gruden shows next is a play later in the game. FSU’s defense has nine guys on the field and Boyd fails to quick-snap the ball. He allows FSU to get a 10th player on the field. Even then, the defense is a player short when Boyd starts the play and the quarterback sill throws an interception in scoring territory.
The most damning part of this segment could be the fact that Gruden asks Boyd before the play begins how many players FSU has on the field. Boyd says “10″ twice when it’s actually 9. When Gruden corrects Boyd, the QB purses his lips and his quiet reaction is a strong indication of disappointment if you buy into the body language.
Unlike Andrew Luck and some of the other players who appeared on this show, Boyd does not seem to remember this play. Luck seemed to know that Spider-Two, Y-Banana was leading to a specific play during the season.
It seems Boyd either didn’t know this was the play that was coming or if he did, he didn’t remember the details. Not remembering the details of a play that was a huge mistake might lead some observers to believe that Boyd doesn’t study the film as intently as he should. Others might say Boyd forgot and don’t over-analyze it.
One thing is apparent; Boyd is clearly withdrawn and angry.
“Does this piss you off?”
All Boyd can do is respond with a non-verbal affirmative
“What kind of a leader were you after this,” Gruden asks. Boyd responds with a longer answer:
“I learned a lot from it. Probably the biggest lesson I learned in my whole career. After my young guy came off the field after the first play (the strip by Joyner on a quick pass) nothing really happened. I just kind of came back to the sideline and didn’t say anything thinking we’d be okay, but we weren’t okay. We werent okay as a team. I wasn’t okay, he wasn’t okay, and we weren’t okay as a team. If I had talked to the team I could have change the course of that game for the team. I had a rough game and it was just a downhill spiral…one of the best things I learned was to make sure you’re proactive.”
Boyd is talking about leadership lessons, but not the details. Boyd appeared as if this was the first time he heard about Bison. This is something one could attribute to the Clemson coaching staff–right or wrong–but it could also be on Boyd. Either way, the better QB prospects already have the leadership component down and are focusing on the strategic improvements. Boyd talks as if he is a step behind as a leader and a quarterback.
“It’s all in the details,” says Gruden. “Film study and countless hours of work.”
Another thing I see with Boyd in this interview is forced laughter while he’s criticized. This is often a sign of nervousness, stress, and seeking empathy from other person. Again, can you blame him for feeling these emotions? Most of these prospects are going to show some level of insecurity with their body language in this environment.
Boyd’s laughter is much different from the chuckle when Gruden showed a tape of an N.C. State fan doubled over in grief in the stands. That laugh seemed more genuine and joyful–especially since Boyd had eight touchdowns in the game.
Gruden tells Boyd that he sees a player with peaks and valleys and the NFL sees it too. He asks Boyd what does he think about that perception.
“You know honestly, again I feel like consistency is what got me to the point where I’m at. I feel like I’m one of the more consistent players out there. But in order to be great in anything that you do you have to go out there and take risks,” says Boyd. At this point Gruden smiles a very tight-lipped smile and begins writing. Gruden’s body language here is often seen as “guarded,” indicating a reaction he doesn’t want to share because he doesn’t like or trust what he heard from Boyd. “You can take check-downs all day if you want to but check-downs don’t always lead to touchdowns. You have to go out there and try to make it happen sometimes.”
Boyd goes on to link his tendencies to Brett Favre’s risk-taking. Depending on the observer, Boyd’s use of Favre could be seen as a form of denial and delusions of grandeur about his play or if the observer thinks Boyd can develop into a starter then it’s a valid point.
Gruden’s response is to repeat the phrase, “peak and valley” three times. This response from Gruden could come across as a subtle way of telling Boyd that he’s stubbornly refusing to admit fault or he’s in denial about the comparison. Either way, it there’s evidence that Gruden isn’t convinced that Boyd is a student of the game.
“Will you promise me that you’ll be relentless with the details,” asks Gruden, telling Boyd that many of these things are very easy to fix.
Gruden finishes the show explaining to the camera that he likes Boyd’s toughness, willingness to work, and the fact that he’s the type of player that a coach will feel confident that he can develop.
The most critical takeaway from his show might be that Boyd doesn’t have a clear picture of what he has to learn, doesn’t want to admit flaws, and doesn’t study the details. If these are all true, then observers who have this viewpoint will not be as optimistic about Boyd’s developmental potential.
Others may believe Boyd was coached not to discuss his flaws or took his media coaching to an extreme that wasn’t as nuanced as it should be. They might be more forgiving of his avoidance behavior. They might go either way on Boyd’s lack of detailed focus on the film.
However, many observers might see a confident young quarterback who might be a little too confident for own good and they’ll see this arrogance as a positive in some ways. They will see a friendly young man, who was clearly angry with his mistakes and guarded with his responses because he was under the microscope on national television. If they believe he can improve, there’s little here that might dissuade them from taking a shot on him.
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